Walking the Llama

One day when I was on the bus going to work, Theresa sat down next to me. I was pregnant with Seth and was probably doing pelvic floor exercises or was otherwise inwardly occupied, because I remember feeling irritated when she spoke to me. I didn’t know her name was Theresa yet; I didn’t know anything about her. Once I’d pulled my head out of my womb, however, I managed to engage with her politely. She was wondering if I’d chosen a name for the baby yet. As a matter of fact, I said (registering now that she was what a former generation might have referred to as “slow”), we had not come to an agreement yet. That was an understatement, as my then-partner and I had hugely differing ideas about good names – I countered her every Brianna and Kiera with Daisy and Jocelyn, and neither of us was budging. Luckily, we did manage to agree on a boy’s name, so were both hoping for a little fella.

“When I was born,” explained Theresa, “my mom hadn’t named me yet and it said on the birth certificate, ‘Baby Girl.’ That’s terrible!” I commiserated, not knowing exactly why it was so terrible. Maybe Theresa felt unwanted when she heard that story, but anyway, she was quite relieved when I told her that we at least had a boy’s name and were working hard on a girl’s. Before she got off, she told me something wonderful: once or twice a week, she had the job of going over to a local farm and walking the llama. I was so happy with this piece of information that I could barely contain myself. I tend to react strongly to this sort of thing, and she probably wondered what my problem was, but I pressed her to tell me all about it. I didn’t know llamas had to be walked, but apparently, this one liked to get out. After that, I saw her now and then – I think (but I could be making this up) that I even saw her after Seth was born and I was able to introduce the two of them.

Seth is 12 now, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere. He’s cultivating a potty mouth and, although I protest, I did the same at 10 and am hardly an angel when it comes to swears. He bullies his 9-year old brother, Owen, he pesters us about cell phones, he hates that we’re gay, and he is embarrassed and irked by everything about us. (I speak for myself and my Beau, but I’m quite sure it’s the same in my ex’s household.) I love him and Owen as fiercely and completely as a mama can.

Today I have been feeling so shredded by this divorce. It is such a kick in the ass that my ex and I separated over 5 years ago (after being estranged-yet-living-together for as many years), that we’ve been to therapy and mediation, endured countless unendurable meetings – for what? We still have no official documents of any kind concerning custody or any other divorce arrangements. The situation has become unbearable as we continued, year after year, to try and reinvent the wheel. Without going into too much detail, the whole thing sucks shit. We need something filed with the court, and that is why I finally hired a lawyer to help get the papers that will protect the boys. This has infuriated my ex and made her even harder to deal with than usual. It is putting a huge strain on me, my relationship with my Beau, and surely, although they don’t know exactly what’s going on as we’re keeping them well out of it, the boys. I have been on the brink of tears all day, and am here all alone, as my Beau has been out of town on work since Tuesday, and the boys are at my ex’s. Falling, falling, falling….

And then, driving to work this evening, I happened to glance to my left and saw a very strange backside. It was animal, large, brown and white – at first I thought it was a big dog. Oh, but then I saw more clearly, and it was the llama! THE llama! I saw it’s funny, grumpy-looking face (it was turned around, looking at traffic), and then I saw Theresa, both hands on the lead, stumping along, doing her job. That’s all it took — I burst into tears. Grateful tears, for the gift of seeing Theresa walking the llama after all these years, and tears of release, as I let go of some of my anger and sadness. God damn it, it’s time to stop moping ‘cause there are jobs to be done! The student I was driving towards needs to learn English, the papers granting safety and stability to my sons have to be filed, the llama has to be walked!

The phone rang just now and it was Seth, calling so I could go over his English test with him – apparently linking and action verbs are too much for my ex (they’re pert’ near too much for me, too, but I teach ESL, so have to pretend I know all about grammar). He didn’t swear, he thanked me kindly, and I hung up with a happy glow in my heart. Later tonight, I’m going next door to check in on the neighbor kids (10-year old twins and a 13-year old). I’ve known them since their birth – our two families are an enclave in an it-takes-a-village sort of a way – and they’re alone tonight while their folks have a special evening out. I’ll go over there and maybe read them a story or two, get a little kid lovin’ in to tide me over until I see mine again.

Then I’ll come home and keep on walking.

Published in: on November 21, 2008 at 12:33 AM  Comments (2)  

Mary! Jesus!

When I saw that there was going to be a demonstration in downtown Boston for marriage rights this past Saturday, I thought maybe we could go. We didn’t have the boys this weekend, which is always a heartbreak, but it does allow for us to sometimes have a little adult time.

My Beau was agin it, at least at first. “Why does there always have to be something to do?” she moaned, wanting nothing more than to have a puttery weekend, set out the bird feeder, vacuum, like that. I’ve been in the house non-stop, and it hasn’t been easy to get any work done, either, what with the electricians doing their thing (we’re getting the house rewired). I wanted out, she wanted in – we went back and forth and finally, bless her heart, she pushed herself and away we went.

And how nice it was! We both agreed. See, we’re both pretty hermit-like, but it is good to get out amongst people. Especially queer people. We strolled through Chinatown, had some Vietnamese food (she’s still raving about that hot and sour catfish soup), then made it over to City Hall and the demonstration. Hundreds of queers! Funny signs! Riveting speakers! We stood holding each other and enjoying being among our people. One’s people, of course, never being perfect, always offering challenges.

One woman held a sign that said, “Gay is the New Black.” Well, that’s catchy, but it’s a flawed and ignorant statement. All these comparisons of the struggle of queers for equal rights to the struggle of blacks for equal rights make me extremely uneasy. It is a really bad idea to get in a pissing contest about whose persecution is worse, and will almost certainly result in passion and anger being directed in less-than-useful directions (i.e., at each other). Ignorance of history, lack of an understanding of the bigger picture, and just plain wrong-headed impulsiveness and mouthing off are an unfortunate part of every human group. Sometimes comparisons are useful – I do think it’s useful to look at how anti-miscegenation laws were overturned, for example – but, golly, people. Gay is so NOT the new Black! Gay is gay. Honestly.

And another woman had a sign that said something like, “We’re not gay – she’s just my sister wife!” Ok, it is a wee tad bit hard to resist knocking the Mormons on this, but polygamy is hardly a tenant of the Mormon church anymore, and again, where are you putting your energy? In poking fun at/attacking whoever it is you see as opposing you? Not such a good plan. Mormons, practicing and not, are a huge, diverse group of people with all kinds of beliefs – it’s silly to lump them all together and pee on them. Won’t get us very far.

I did like the sign that had a nice color picture of the Statue of Liberty deep kissing a swooning Lady Justice, and the one that said something amusingly Cambridge-y like, “My relationship was deconstructed using the hetero-normative dyad and all I got was this lousy marriage ban!”

Inbetween speakers, we were encouraged to chant. This is not my Beau’s favorite activity, but she hung in there. So we shouted in merry spirits, “Fired up! Ready to go!” and the like. There was one I was really puzzled by, though, and I refused to join in, since I’m an atheist. It went, “Gay! Straight! Black! White! Mary! Jesus! Equal rights!” What the heck? What are those two doing in there? My Beau asked why I wasn’t chanting and I told her. Would you believe she laughed at me? Turns out they were saying, “Marriage is an equal right!” Huh. Anyway, now we’re going around using that as our expression of disgust, dismay, or awe, totally cracking ourselves up. As in, earlier today before I’d had my breakfast, “Mary! Jesus! The electricians are here already!” Or my Beau, “This is an amazing cup of coffee. Equal rights!”

I thought about my boys when we were at the demonstration. One couple, the first gay couple to get married in MA, had their son with them on stage – he left quickly, after being introduced. I could never imagine Seth accompanying us on such an occasion, although Owen might. Seth so hates that we’re gay, that we’re different from the parents of most of his friends. We do tell him that we can legally get married in MA, but he knows it’s kind of a fake – senses it somehow, although he doesn’t know the particulars. What if we could tell him it was legal everywhere in the U.S.? In Canada? In Mexico? In Chile, where my dearest childhood friend lives? In the WORLD? What if we could show him queer families from every walk of life, from every country, of every gender, every color, and they were accepted right into the fabric of society – maybe not in the majority, but certainly nothing odd, nothing bad, just a normal variation in the human expression. What if we could do that? Well, I’m not going to fool myself – he’d still be 12 and he’d still be rabidly pre-adolescent. But still, how cool would it be to actually fit in to the pack? Man, you’d hear me saying it then! Say it with me now, just for fun:

Mary! Jesus! EQUAL RIGHTS!!!!

Published in: on November 17, 2008 at 7:56 PM  Comments (2)  

Little plate breaks

I have a tea ritual in the morning. It’s not all that elaborate – not like what they get up to at the Dobra Tea Room in Burlington, Vermont where the tea menu is as thick as a phone book and the servers are quite stern about brewing times. Still, it’s my little ritual and it helps me start the day. I put the teabag in question (used to be Lady Grey, but now I’m trying to find something good that’s organic and fair trade) into my mug of preference (white, nice lip, doesn’t break your arm to lift), then I put a little plate on top and let it steep. I have several little plates, all about 4” in diameter, all bought when I lived in Japan in the mid-80s. They’re supposed to be for condiments, but I use them for tea. My two favorite were plain, no design, lovely fluted edges, one a gorgeous turquoise, one a luscious teal. I broke the teal a while ago. Today I broke the turquoise.

I lived in Japan – in Tokyo – for about 2 ½ years all told. I was intensely lonely much of the time and deliriously happy some of the time, convinced that I was doing something so wonderful that it could only lead to more and more wonderful things. I was learning Japanese, shunning the usual gaijin hang outs, insinuating myself into the counter culture of underground art and music. I was often the only gaijin at the lives I went to, sometimes with friends, but just as often all on my own. I can see myself in my pink 1960’s polyester dress, a string of pearls bouncing as I danced alone in front of the stage at a late-night performance of my all-time-favorite-band-which-none-of-you-has-probably-ever-heard-of, Rosa Luxembourg. The lead singer, Don’t, is wearing some irreverent kimono combination, his makeup smeared, faggy and glorious, and my sometimes boyfriend, Shigeo, the drummer, is going crazy. I guess other bands back then were taking traditional Japanese rhythms and folk tunes and combining them with rock, singing in Japanese, and going back to their roots in a modern way, but Rosa was the best. God, I loved going to see that band. I really felt like I was part of something, watching something unique and precious come into being.

Another band I used to go see in the 80s was The Blue Hearts. The other day, I came across a rather adorable film from a few years back called “Linda, Linda, Linda.” It’s about 4 girls in a high school band in Japan who are working on some Blue Hearts songs for a school festival. How odd to watch them learn songs I first heard back in Tokyo in small, smoky live houses, way before Hiroto and Mashi and the gang made it really, really big.

People used to ask me what I was going to “do” with my Japanese, meaning how was I going to use it to make money. My friend’s brother, for example, ended up pulling down a huge salary working for Japanese companies. Another friend became an expert translator. I was in Japan when manga and anime and Japanese bands were beginning to be popular in the U.S., but somehow, I missed the wave and didn’t end up “doing” anything. So now I know how to make miso soup, I’ve taught my boys a few useful Japanese phrases, I can eavesdrop on Japanese tourists, and I know a little more about the world than I did before I lived in Japan.

And I brought home a little plate, so turquoise, so soothing, such a lovely reminder of my youth, of Japan, of the smell of tatami, of the song of the sweet potato vendor, of being squished into a crowd of hot, miserable people on the subway and kind of getting off on it, of Don’t singing and sweating and screaming on stage. No more, no more. In her 90s, my grandmother used to ask my father plaintively, “How did I get to be so old?” It’s a puzzle, all right. Last year, after being able-bodied most of my life, I had major surgery on my arthritic hip so I could once more walk without pain. How in the world did that happen? How does any of it happen?

I have other little plates, even though I don’t like them as much. They have patterns on them, and are not as plain and soothing as my teal and my turquoise. Now that I have to use them all the time, though, maybe I’ll learn to like them. Maybe I’ll discover things about them I never would have known if I had gone on and on with just the turquoise, growing old together. This morning, as the little plate slid out of my hand onto the floor, I comforted myself, muttering, “It’s happened, now. It’s happened.” I kind of always knew it would.

Published in: on November 6, 2008 at 4:16 PM  Comments (1)  

Two moms and no cell phone equals…

THE HELL THAT IS MY LIFE!!

This according to my 12-year old. I don’t believe I’ve really introduced my family. Seth is my eldest, he is 12, he is in sixth grade and lately a girl has been calling him just about every day. No information forthcoming about why – today I said mildly, “Gosh, she’s been calling every day.”

“Hrugh.” (I translate this to mean yes.)

“Guess you guys have a lot to talk about, huh?” Accompanied by a fond pat on his arm.

“Hrugh.” (I translate this to mean yes.)

“So what do you talk about?”

“Hrugh.” (I am having difficulty translating this – any suggestions from other folks who have pre-teens?)

End of conversation, as I’m trying to act like a mild and non-threatening part of the landscape so the timid forest creature will unsuspectingly come up to me and act natural. Sometimes it even works!

Ok, now let me introduce Owen. He is 9 and in 4th grade and my Beau and I often refer to him as “Dr. Love” as he is almost always so agreeable and up for anything. He also is very sensuous and one of my favorite memories of him is when he was maybe 3 and we were in a relatively long and boring church service at a friend’s church. I snuck my hand up under his shirt and started rubbing and scritching his back, just to keep him from starting to get antsy. I guess I’d never done exactly that kind of lovin’ on him, because his eyes glazed over, his head began lolling, and I thought he might drool.

“Mama,” he sighed. “That feels SO GOOD!”

Both boys are pretty sporty, and the soccer season is just about to end. Owen will continue with indoor soccer; Seth will go on to basketball. Another time I will write about how I feel about the fact that 2 different coaches called the boys on the teams “ladies.” Seth plays guitar and Owen plays piano and recently took up the cornet, which belonged to my great grandfather.

And now my Beau, my handsome, upright, smart, funny butch. She’s a carpenter and works for a non-profit; until last year she worked in a woman’s prison teaching carpentry to the inmates, now she’s doing more administrative work but keeping up the carpentry on the side.

As for me, I’m a writer, an editor, I teach ESL, and I’m lucky lucky ducky to be a mostly stay-at-home mom.
So here we are on election night. I’ve been nervous and out of sorts all day and I’m still nervous. We had such a nice neighborly time, though. Our beloved neighbors, who have 3 kids around the same age as ours, invited us over to watch the TV, since ours has GONE DARK and we haven’t done squat about it (don’t worry, we can still watch our PBS videos, like “The Duchess of Duke Street” and “Foyle’s War”). Anyway, we went over with our Bailey’s and sat until almost 9:30. The kids drifted in and out, but mostly just hung out with each other, and we grownups got to talk to each other via the TV the way folks do, and it was just so nice, it was our own election gathering. (Not so many people as in Chicago, though.)

Right now we’re watching “Democracy Now” on the computer and I’m writing this and my Beau is puttering around. She said earlier, “I’ve never seen Amy Goodman look so happy!” and it’s true. I’m proud of my people in Iowa for voting for Obama and disappointed in my people in Nebraska. (I’m good Midwestern stock.)

Ok, they’re saying Obama won. I’m pretty much in shock and my Beau just said, “It hasn’t even sunk in.” Wow. We just went up and whispered to the sleeping boys that Barack Obama won. Wow. Wow. Wow.

Published in: on November 5, 2008 at 4:26 AM  Leave a Comment  

Tonight, tonight

Tonight I’m not at Split Britches show in downtown Boston, the one that’s part of the Theater Offensive “Out on the Edge” annual festival. It’s been years since I’ve gone – I think the last time was when my ex and I were dating. Every year, I get the flyer, every year I mark down the shows I want to see, and every damn year something comes up. Tonight what came up was: my Beau has been out of town two weeks in a row and did 5 hours of yard work this afternoon and then just wanted to settle in front of the fire after doing bills and having supper, and I had a million phone calls to make because somehow I’m room parent for both boys’ classrooms, and I had to enter my words for National Novel Writing Month, and make a call to the writer’s union about this contract I don’t think I’m going to sign but I’d like advice about and somewhere in there my eldest showed up and stomped around looking for his backpack (the boys are with my ex this weekend), and I’m pretty much whammied because I had to hire a lawyer to deal with divorce issues so relaxing in front of the fire tonight sounded good to me, too, and then we had supper and then we both had to clean the bathrooms (my Beau is in there right now, in her boxers, scrubbing soap scum), and all in all, as much as it pained me, we didn’t get downtown at all.

So I started drinking wine, a little more than usual, trying to fill a little ache. Because I wanted to go. I wanted to go really badly, I wanted to be out amongst queers, I wanted to see Split Britches really a lot, I really, really did. But by the time I realized I wanted – no, needed to go – it was too late, and the evening had already fled. Sometimes I drive myself crazy by being so stoic. I go along forever saying, “No, I’m fine, really, no problem,” when actually I’m slowly being worn down, layer after layer, slowly becoming absolutely and completely invisible. Ok, that’s not entirely true – there are other queers in my neighborhood and I’m totally out to everybody I know, but, do you know how there are times when that’s not enough? When you actually want to be surrounded – I’m talking everybody there is queer – and feted and involved and included in something wonderful like a play where the characters are actually referencing, even living through, things that look like your own life. No explanations necessary. Kiss me, Daddy, right here in the open under the benevolent eye of other queers; cleanse me of the damning murmur, attitude or actual words, that I so often hear when I come out: Oh, that’s OK! Yes. Yes it is, and I’m not there tonight where it really, truly is.

As soon as I figured out that I was running on empty and told my Beau about it, she realized she was feeling that way, too. We made a pact to go to the queer bookstore downtown sometime really soon. Then I had an even better idea, and we are now having dinner with two of our favorite queer neighborhood families next Saturday – my Beau just picked up the phone and made it happen – and I can’t tell you how relieved I’m feeling already. I love Abe Rybeck and everything about the Theater Offensive and I’m so glad it exists and I’m so sad I didn’t make it again this year. Thank goodness for this suburban girl, though, that there are queer families nearby and that we are making the effort to hang out with each other, despite the fact that we are all busy rearing children, working, and doing all the other millions of things that we do. I can’t wait to see those folks next week, our kids running around, all of us gabbing and laughing together.

Me and my Beau are bringing the wine.

Published in: on November 3, 2008 at 1:22 AM  Leave a Comment  

Who is she now?

Recently, I received a voice mail message from a woman I was in school with back in my home town — grade school, middle school, and high school, that is. She said she’d been thinking about me, had tried to track me down (apparently there are a lot of people with my name), and had been so glad to get the just-published high school directory and to find me in it. Later, in the car with the boys, I told them about the voice mail.

“I don’t know why she called me,” I complained. “I don’t even know what I would say to her. The whole thing is just weird.”

“Why?” asked my eldest, Mr. Socially Astute. “Is it because she might be a professor or something and you aren’t?”

“Um, maybe that’s part of it, yeah.”

“Mom, just tell her that you’re taking care of us and that we’re really great and that’s your really great job.”

It’s hard to hug a person when you’re driving, but I did my best.

Even later, though, I got to thinking that it’s not just any vestigial worry about my life not being up to snuff that gives me pause here. No, I’m pretty much over the agony that kept me from going to my 10th high school reunion because I’d just dropped out of grad school and felt like the biggest loser on the planet. Instead, as I said to my butch, “It’s vaguely interesting to hear about people you used to know through a third party, but I don’t think I would have much to say to her. The only reason I’d even be remotely interested in reconnecting would be if she turned out to be queer, too.”

Aha! It’s the queer thing again.

It turns out my lack of interest – which borders on actually feeling somewhat put upon by her contacting me –stems in part from my perception that we are on completely different narrative paths. In her mid-forties, I imagine this woman to be in the comfortable-yet-soul-searching position of having the luxury to sit back and wonder about how she got to where she is – some version of a mid-life crisis, a time to indulge in a spot of nostalgia and give in to a desire to reconnect to one’s roots. Why not poke about on the internet or blow the dust off those year books and take a peek, murmuring softly, “I wonder what ol’ so and so is doing now?” It’s cozy and life affirming, and it looks like she would like to include me.

In my mid-forties, I have been out as a lesbian for only 15 years or so, and as a femme for only 5 of those. I don’t always think back on my history with fondness, filled as it is with feelings of difference it took me years and years to understand and do anything about, failed romantic relationships with men, failed friendships with women, and reminders of how difficult it was to be operating in a world where I was so often deeply miserable for no good reason that I could figure out. Right now, all I’m interested in is continuing to work to ensure that I am surrounded by people who “get” me and my butch Beau and our family, who contribute to the feelings of belonging, nurturing, support, and love that were so often lacking in the way way back. Because so many people — even many queers — don’t “get” our femme/butch dynamic, those that I let into my private life are few and far between. The constant barrage of misunderstanding, misplaced bonhomie – such as the straight people who refer to my Beau as “girl” and “your wife” – and downright hostility can make me pretty damn prickly, protective of my and my Beau’s energy and space, and hard pressed to open my heart willy nilly, as I once was wont to do. Nor am I at all sure I wouldn’t be setting myself up as a pawn in one more celebration of Straight if I were to respond to my old classmate in the way I believe she would like. ‘Cause, see, I can imagine your life, but you only think you can imagine mine, and I get very tired trying to explain it.

None of this is her fault, though, and there is absolutely no need for me to be a jerk. It was only polite that I write her, which I did, albeit quite briefly. In response, she wrote back a lovely, long, rambling email about her life since the early 80s when we last saw each other. (Nope, not queer!) She gave me news of other hometown folks she’s seen or heard about – there’s even one who lives in the same town as I do — and extended an invitation for me to write again and to stay in touch.

Back on my grade school playground, my classmate, all girly-girl and smarty pants at age maybe 8 or 9, gave me a spelling lesson: “I’m a little girl and I like to jump rope, so I know that Europe is spelled E U R O P E. And I like the principal because he is my pal, so I know principal is spelled P R I N C I P A L.” She was adorably, insufferably sure of herself, and I was very impressed. I still suck at spelling, but I remember how to spell principal because of her.

I like that memory.

Published in: on November 2, 2008 at 9:55 PM  Leave a Comment